Renewal


When Jesus saw the man lying there (by the healing pool) and knew that he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

John 5: 6 

This is the question that God asks people every day. These words are the opening of a dialogue that has been going on between the Lord and us since the beginning of time. We often respond by telling Him that we are completely healthy and that there is nothing that we could possibly need that we don’t already possess in ourselves. Sometimes we say that we are too far gone to be worthy of the effort to heal us. Then others say that we’ll check back later, you know, go to the doctor if we decide that the need is great enough or the symptoms linger for too long. 

These can be adequate responses when we are dealing with something like the flu; yet, even then, waiting to allow the physician access to our illness can be catastrophic or even fatal. How much more do we need treatment when the illness carries an absolutely fatal prognosis? 

The man that Jesus came upon waiting by the spring was just like everyone else in this world. He was ill, crippled by the effects of disease, injury, and neglect. He knew that he desired to be made whole, and he had no idea about how that was truly possible. Hopeless, helpless, and beyond desperation, he waited for the miracle but didn’t trust that there would ever be one. He dreamed of walking upright while knowing that this would never be his waking reality. 

Jesus walks into the lives of everyone, everywhere. Christ’s Spirit is resident in the souls of each person who has allowed Him to heal us; thus, Jesus goes with us through every day that we live. Sure, there are still symptoms of the illness, and there are days when these relatively minor ailments get us down, but the fatal disease, the heart infection of sin has been permanently conquered. Each of us who knows Jesus as the healer of our souls needs to share with the fatally ill who surround us daily the joy of getting up off of the sick bed to which evil tried to tie us 

Jesus allows us the privilege of walking into the lives of others and of inviting them to do as He said to the sick man, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (John 5: 8) In fact, Christ commissions His people to do this. He commands us to go into the world and to live in a manner that brings His glorious presence and His loving grace into its darkness. We are to take the message of healing to the fatally ill in our lives. We should carry the simple yet profound truth of God’s perfect love to each and every person that we find waiting for the miracle by the side of the pool, for Jesus wants us to bring His message of faith, trust, and hope to all of His beloved lost sheep. He wants us to do as He continually did and walk into people’s lives with the question whose answer brings eternal life. “Do you want to be healed?”

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We were buried therefor with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6: 4

The idea of baptism, as it has been practiced as a right and a sacrament by the church since days before Paul, is certainly being discussed here. Yet, it is not this act that brings about the important result that is mentioned. Without contemplation of means or of method, that is absent discussion of immersion verses sprinkling and babies and/or adults, the act of wetting down a person does nothing beyond announcing and proclaiming the reality of a relationship that is formed in the heart and is made real by virtue of the work of the Spirit of Christ within a person. Thus, the real baptism into Christ’s death takes place in the realm of the mystical and carried out by the Spirit. This is a work that is done as a part of that wonderous event that we often call conversion or new birth in Christ. In fact, this death of the old self is an essential part of the life-long journey of faith that is commenced when each of us surrenders our life to Christ.

We are allowed to experience the shame of the criminal’s death on the cross through Jesus’ literal pain, agony, and death there. He was innocent and undeserving of that fate, and we are each guilty and have more than earned the punishment that Christ endured. More so, the shame of this torturous implement is also ours as our sinfulness is viewed in contrast to God’s standard of holiness and righteous living. So, God requires that we surrender ourselves in full and total submission to Him; thus, we do place the comforts, the selfish pleasures, and the defining compulsions of our prior lives upon that altar of redemption. We undergo the process of dying to self with its literal, if spiritual, burial of who and what we were in a grave that also leads to our spiritual union with Christ. From this earthy and darkened place, we are raised up into the light of new life, and this is also something that is accomplished by the work of the Spirit alone.

From this point forward, we are called upon by Christ to seek to live out our days as followers of God’s way and doers of His will. Although this is something that we participate fully in as we are asked to set our eyes on Christ and ground our minds in God’s Word while surrendering our hearts to the leading of the Spirit, the strength needed and the power that living out this transformed life requires is provided by Christ through the presence of His Spirit. So, this is how we walk in the newness of life, and this is what it means to live in the fullness of the kingdom of God as it has come to be our own reality. In Christ we are made new, and through Christ’s work, as it is carried out in our bodies, the world that we touch is also transformed into a place where the Godly characteristics of love, justice, mercy, and peacemaking are tangibly present. Although this walk in the newness of life in Christ will never be easy as it operates in direct opposition to the ways of this world, it does place us in the center of the redemption that Christ has caused to exist here as a result of His resurrection in which we have now been joined.           

And he said:

“The LORD roars from Zion

   and utters his voice from Jerusalem;

the pastures of the shepherds mourn,

   and the top of Carmel withers.”

Amos 1: 2

Amos, the humble shepherd, speaks, and the world listens to his words, for he is speaking into history the heart and the desire of the Lord, God Almighty. For God does speak His truth to us. This was true in the days of Amos some 2,900 or so years ago just as it is still so today. For a time or even for a season it may seem that the Lord’s voice is silent, but that never remains the case indefinitely. God cares greatly for us, and He also is truly concerned about the way that we go about living. There is no aspect of the manner in which people exist and in the form that our conduct of life is framed that escapes the Lord’s view. So, we can count upon the fact that He will hold us accountable for all of it. The Lord will respond to the good that we do and to the despicably evil that we carry out or that we allow to exist through inaction and failure to hold ourselves and others accountable for following the mandates that God sets out in His Word.

Like the citizens of Israel and even of Judah we may think that we are experiencing God’s blessing because we are comfortable, wealthy, and powerful. Yet, this is all a false form of security, for its basis is not God’s will or the Lord’s expressed desire. Instead, we, like they, are smugly self-satisfied in the accomplishments of our hands and with the power and the control that we think that we exert upon the world around us. Although Amos has commenced his series of comments about the wickedness of the world and of its nations with pointed expressions regarding the various peoples and counties that surrounded Israel and Judah, the prophet will, in turn, spin about and point the Lord’s figure of judgement inwardly toward God’s own nation and its inhabitants. They were to be held to an even higher standard of righteousness and compliance with God’s stated will than were their neighbors. This is not just a historic comment; rather, it is a basic reality of God’s character. He does hold His people accountable for living out the love, grace, mercy, and justice that the Lord has poured over us.

We may desire for the Day of the Lord to come when He will speak forth truth and justice into the world so that all that is evil will be destroyed and everything that is out of conformity to His Word will be set right again. Yes, we might desire for that great day to come, but we must also realize that the Lord’s judgement falls upon all people equally. So, as the Lord roars from Zion with His voice of righteousness sounding forth the end of all that stands in opposition to His will in the world, its reverberations are felt most powerfully by those who are closest to the source. Israel and Judah would not escape from the earth-cleansing work that the Lord would accomplish over the next periods of time, and we will not be granted immunity from His judgement, either. So, today is a good one for each of us who seek to follow Christ to examine the depths of our hearts and to turn to the Lord with a sincere desire upon our lips to know Him well so that we can live out the Lord’s will and the desires of His heart. This is a time for repentance and for the restoration of our faith. Christ is calling to His people to turn from our arrogance, our willfulness, and to renounce the ways of the world so that we can truly follow him and bring the light of justice and righteousness into the dark corners of that same earthly expanse.    

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

Galatians 5: 5

Magic truly exists in a child’s waiting. The anticipation of a birthday or of the coming of Christmas has an energy and a charm to it that is unlike almost anything else that we experience in life. Yet, Christ grants to us another form of anticipatory hope that is even greater than these special moments. We live in a world where there seems to be more things that divide people than there are those that bring us together. This trajectory of divisive thoughts and deeds has been one that has occupied the existence of humanity since early on in our journey across the face of the earth. In fact, we seem to be on a sort of quest to find as many ways to disassociate from each other as we possible can devise or develop. The winner of this game gets to be king of the world and have it all to themselves without need for rubbing elbows with those other disagreeable people out there.

God does not want His children to live like this. He created this world to be a place where we all could live in a form of committed relationship with Him and with each other. Our diversity and differences are supposed to bring about strength through reliance upon others and unity by means of listening to each other’s stories and by means of entering into understanding the other person’s viewpoint and perspective. Yet, these simple acts of conciliation and agreement seem to be among the most difficult things that we can ask of each other, for we often do everything that we can think of to accomplish the opposite effect. We search for our points of disagreement and make those our emphasis in dealing with each other. We form our opinions of the desires and wishes that groups of people hold without even giving them the opportunity to sit down and share those hopes and dreams with us. We separate and set up barriers to contact and communication before we can even see the other person’s eyes.

These are days when we, humanity, need to become young again with the hope of anticipation replacing the fears of generations as our expectation for contact with people from other countries, with different languages, and of religious beliefs that are not our own. When we choose to listen to someone’s story, we are engaging in an act of love. As we seek to hold out the hand of peace to a person that makes us uncomfortable, we are engaging in an act of worship to God, and when we embrace the foreigner with hospitality and provide a welcoming meal in place of the usual protective barriers, we are living out the faith that leads to righteousness. There is no true peace in our world without trust, and there is little trust to be found outside of the healing presence of Christ. Yet, in Him and though the work of His Spirit, we can reengage that child-like hope as we anticipate the blessing that comes through extending the hand of fellowship to people that will grace us with the rich tapestry of their stories as we are faithful to Christ’s call to unity for all of humanity.  

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.

2 Chronicles 16: 9 

There are many people who claim that God is either passive or non-existent, that He has no relevance in this world, and even that He is unnecessary. Others believe that the only god that anyone needs is to be found inside of themselves; thus, each individual is the master of his own universe and is totally equipped to do and to handle everything alone. I find all of these perspectives to be frightening, incredibly lonely, and disastrously wrong. I have learned that my strongest and most capable times are ones when I am yielding my will to God’s and when I allow Him to work with and through me. It is also true that God doesn’t just passively wait for things to happen; He is with me, He goes before me, and He protects my back. The Lord is a very real presence throughout my world for every hour of each day.  

Now, consider what it means to be blameless. I am not close to perfect, and my heart is certainly not always aligned with God’s will. I fear that for too much of the time my thoughts and actions are no where near to righteous; yet, I know that God sees me as blameless, as forgiven of everything wrong and hurtful that might come from within my heart and mind. Jesus has paid for all of my evil and sinful ways, and because Christ lives in me, God sees Christ’s perfection when He looks at my weakness. The Spirit of Christ goes with me through everything and guides me toward His will as He speaks truth, love, and life into my being. Thus, it is His perfect will that is seen by God and by the world as I live out the calling of Christ with my life. 

Perhaps, the most important word in this ancient verse is “strong,” for that is what God brings to me. He gives me strength, He makes my frail and easily discouraged will into one that is truly mighty, and He gives my cloudy thinking a form of clarity that comes from out of eternity and that runs straight and true until the end of time. There is no partial or conditional involvement from the Lord. He is fully invested in the lives of His people, and He is totally committed to us forever. If you are willing to yield to Christ and to grant God access to your heart, to your concerns, and to your plans; He will continually fill you with His wisdom as He encourages and strengthens your heart. 

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)

Philemon 10, 11

This is a difficult relationship to consider, for it is clear that Onesimus was a slave. His name means either “useful” or “profitable” and was one that was commonly given to slaves. It would seem that he has run away from service to his master Philemon and has come to be among the group of people who had gathered around Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome in around 62 AD. Something has happened during this time with Paul. Elsewhere the apostle describes a hard and a painful process that is much like a woman giving birth to a child. So, too, Paul uses parent-child imagery when he describes Onesimus and their relationship. It is also clear that Paul trusts this former runaway slave with important tasks such as carrying his letters to Colossae and to Ephesus. Now, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon while he is also appealing to the slave holder to see the transformation that has taken place in Onesimus through eyes and with a heart that have undergone their own transformative work.

This is a fundamental aspect of what it means to follow Christ. In so committing to that relationship, Christ also makes a commitment to each of us. We will not come out of this relationship the same as we were before. That change may not happen quickly; in fact, at times it may seem as if it is progressing at a pace that is too slow to measure. Still, it does come about, for the Spirit of Christ is present in all of us when we embrace faith in Christ, and that Spirit is relentless and powerful in His capacity to bring about the conforming of our hearts and so our minds to that of Christ. Now some people do radically change in a matter of moments, but most of us do this over the course of the remainder of our earthly lives. There will be days when Christ will be very apparent on and in us, and there will be others when the old self seems to raging forth and causing the same sorts of havoc that it did previously. This is the reality of what it means to be a new person in Christ. The work of the Spirit is continuous and on-going, and we need to remain faithful and committed to obedience to God’s Word and to His Spirit in order to fully develop as Christians.

Philemon was asked to be patient and gracious in his reception of Onesimus. Paul implores him to see the new man before he assumes that the old one is present. This is how we are to engage with people who have come to Christ in our world, too. If we believe that Christ works in people to change them, then we must also believe that people can change. So, we are called upon by God to extend grace and understanding to these people, who are new beings in Christ. In the letter to Philemon there is an unstated appeal for the slave owner to extend freedom to the slave upon his voluntary return, for in fact, Onesimus has already been set free by Christ. He is no longer a slave to the greater mastery of sin and its death; so, the freedom that Philemon can extend is relatively minor in its importance or in its impact upon Onesimus. Still, it is important for Philemon’s spiritual growth that he trust Christ enough to release his hold on another human life. We do not know how this aspect of this story concluded, but we can enter into the same form of trust as Philemon was called to do. So, we can seek the Spirit’s guidance as we encounter people who are undergoing the transformative work of the Spirit in their lives so that we, too, can extend the grace that is needful for the day at hand and truly embrace fellow new creatures in Christ with the love and the acceptance that we would desire to receive from them in return.

You have multiplied, O LORD my God,

   your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;

   none can compare with you!

I will proclaim and tell of them,

   yet they are more than can be told.

Psalm 40: 5

Silenced! Dumbstruck! Overwhelmed! These expressions of the way that David was impacted by the Lord’s engagement with his life are simple and weak in comparison to the actual feelings that must have formed up inside of his heart and mind. God’s grace, mercy, favor, and salvation had been granted to the author on too many occasions for him to not be amazed by it all. Now it seems to have happened again, and David can barely get the words out of his mouth to describe God’s gracious favor; yet, at the same time, he cannot hold his words in, either. He needs to tell the world all about the Lord and give us the details of when, how, and what God has accomplished for the sake of His servant.

So, David speaks out to tell everyone who might listen about the wonders of the Lord. He wants us to understand that God does everything because of His love, and He operates freely in our world because of His sovereignty over all of creation. There is nothing that David or that any of us are involved in that the Lord does not know about, and there is nowhere that we might go where He cannot operate with full knowledge and strength. Additionally, in every instance and upon each occasion that comes about in my journey through life, the Lord has both my best interests and the furtherance of His kingdom in mind and set as objectives. This was true for David, and it has remained so for all of the years that have passed by since. Care, engagement, and participation in the lives of His people have continued to be God’s desire and operating modality, and they are the Lord’s promise to us for all of time to come.

We too can join with David is shouting out praise to God for the way that He loves and cares for us. These shouts are expressions of worship and thanksgiving, and they are also uttered as a means of letting others know that they, too, can be the recipients of this form of eternal grace that does overcome all of the evil in this world. By God’s love, we are forgiven all of our sins, in Christ’s blood we are made eternally clean and proclaimed righteous before God, and through the Spirit’s leading we are granted opportunities to live out the fullest possible expression of our skills, talents, and gifts during the hours that we are granted to dwell upon this earth. As my identity is now found in Christ, so too are my feeble words of praise to God replaced by following the Spirit’s direction as I enter into loving others and caring for and about their needs in ways that would not exist without the Lord’s transformative work upon me. The Lord multiplies His wondrous works and expresses His loving thoughts toward the world through His people; so, let me be a follower that lives for Christ today and through all of those hours of life that God’s grace has granted to me.          

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